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U.N. Honors Nun for Refugee Work

October 14, 1997

GENEVA (AP) _ A U.S.-born nun who received a $100,000 prize Monday for working with Guatemalan refugees said Central America has become a neglected corner of the world even though problems remain critical.

``It saddens me to see how little news comes out of Latin America,″ said Sister Joannes Klas, awarded the 1997 Nansen Medal for her work during the last 15 years with Central American refugees.

Klas welcomed the involvement of famous people like the late Princess Diana in humanitarian work because it helps reverse the trend of neglecting refugee problems.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who presented the prize at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, said Klas was working at a time when humanitarian symbols like the Red Cross ``no longer provide the protection we all thought they did.″

``All governments should do all they can to ensure the safety of aid workers,″ Mrs. Ogata said.

Sister Klas, a member of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based teaching order Sisters of St. Francis, has worked with Guatemalans as refugees in Honduras and after their return to their homeland.

She fears that the peace agreements that allowed refugees to return to Guatemala could collapse into more violence.

She urged more effort to educate young Guatemalans because of the land shortage in the country. ``Many will have to leave the land, so education will give those young people opportunities of survival.″

Klas, one of 11 children who lived on a Wisconsin farm, entered the convent in 1949 and taught for 20 years in the state.

Klas is the 45th person and only the fourth American to be honored with the medal.

The prize is donated by Norway and Switzerland. It was created in 1954 to call attention to the plight of refugees. It was named after Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer and the first High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations.

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